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Fr. Jim Hinkle to serve as Navy chaplain

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Despite his best efforts, Father Jim Hinkle’s call to the priesthood more than a decade ago stayed with him, even when he was a submarine officer hundreds of feet underwater. Now, the U.S. Navy wants him back, this time as a chaplain assigned to the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier out of Bremerton, Wash.


“As a priest, where I serve is where I am called so I am definitely looking forward to my next duty station,” said Father Hinkle, parochial vicar of St. Theresa Church in Ashburn.


Although he will miss the parishioners, he is confident that he will have a place in the community once his military service is done.


“The parish of St. Theresa, where I have served for the last four years, is an amazing Catholic community, and I look forward to always having a home back here and returning to serve after my time in the Navy,” Father Hinkle said.


As a Navy chaplain, Father Hinkle pledges to serve both military personnel and their families.


“Whether it is the warfighters serving out there or the families back home, all of those persons are asked to make a great sacrifice,” Father Hinkle said. “It is the chaplain who has the ability to show them that they are making a sacrifice for the greater good of the country and the greater good of the world.”


Military service is in Father Hinkle’s DNA. Born Feb. 22, 1980, at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va., he was impressed by his family’s service in the Navy.


“It’s definitely part of how I grew up, of who I am,” he said. “As a young person, I always dreamed of growing up to be a naval officer like my father, and that was the career path that I pursued.”


He was baptized by a Navy chaplain, Jesuit Father John Francis Laboon, who also had a naval vessel named after him. His grandfather on his mother’s side was a vice admiral and his grandfather on his father’s side was a Navy chief.


“What I noticed about both grandfathers as I reflect back was that they were men of great integrity, and that integrity was something that I saw my father carry on,” Father Hinkle said. “Not only did I see a guy who was willing to go to sea and serve his nation, but he was also a father who was willing to make sacrifices for his family.”


Father Hinkle’s inspiration for becoming a submariner began in 1999, the summer after his freshman year at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. As part of his Navy ROTC training, he had the opportunity to spend a week with each of the Navy communities:  Naval Aviation, Surface, the Marine Corps and the Submarine Force.


“In my generation, I think that many youth grew up seeing the movie ‘Top Gun’ and dreamed about being jet fighter pilots for the Navy, but submariners have camaraderie like no other portion of the service that I have seen,” Father Hinkle said. “Many in the military fight with their hands, but submariners fight with their minds; it takes a great deal of mental endurance to make it through nuclear power school.”


After his college graduation in 2002, he went directly into the Navy, serving as a submarine officer 2002-08.


In 2004, as part of anti-terrorism efforts, Father Hinkle was deployed with the USS Connecticut, a nuclear-powered submarine that is also the nation’s fastest and quietest. He served as the submarine’s reactor control officer, assistant engineer and assistant operations officer.  Collateral duties included: Catholic lay leader, Tomahawk strike coordinator and photo intelligence officer.


“People always ask, ‘What is it like being underwater on a submarine?’ I think being underwater is not as significant as the fact that you are tired all the time so whatever nerves you might have had is mitigated by the fact that you are usually getting about three hours of sleep a night and that it is a constantly rotating watch schedule. You’re doing your best to be alert and to stay on task, despite the physical demands as well.”


It was late at night while aboard the submarine that he continued to hear the call to the priesthood, which overrode his concerns that it was a distraction from his current mission.


“Those late nights underwater when I was sitting on my rack, the thought of the priesthood continued to be foremost in my mind, despite the fact that I resolved to put it out of my head,” Father Hinkle said.


As a naval chaplain, he sees an opportunity to reconcile his two forms of service: priestly and military. He was ordained a priest June 7, 2014.


Father Hinkle was in the inactive reserves as a Chaplain Candidate Program Officer from 2008-17.


“I can see that a priest in uniform can do great things,” Father Hinkle said. “I can do God’s work by helping service members and their families become better Christians, and to be better at their mission of serving both God and country.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018